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Continued: Movie reviews: 'Love Happens' 'Beaches of Agnes' and more

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  • Last update: September 17, 2009 - 4:29 PM

LOVE HAPPENS

★★ out of four stars

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references

Burke (Aaron Eckhart) is a widowed psychologist whose bestseller about dealing with loss has made him a celebrity bereavement guru. While running a seminar in Seattle, he meets Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a florist who stirs his emotions for the first time since his wife's death.

To complain that "Love Happens" is a routine Hollywood romance is like protesting that Nilla Wafers have a cookie-cutter similarity. Eckhart has the meatier role as a half-healed trauma coach who's morose offstage, but infomercial-excited in the spotlight. Eckhart is good at suggesting dark, moody notes beneath a charming veneer; more of those touches would have made Burke compelling.

Aniston's performance is surprisingly guarded. Their chemistry hovers around the "good friends" level with little romantic ardor. "Love Happens" is technically slick, with gorgeous Seattle locations handsomely photographed. The problem comes in the telling. Was it really necessary to stop the movie halfway through for a featurette-length Home Depot commercial? The dramatic hook of the story involves a secret that any viewer can see a mile off. The film is a harmless time-waster that could have been more.

COLIN COVERT

THE BEACHES OF AGNÈs

★★★★ out of four stars

Rating: Not rated; brief nudity. Subtitled.

Where: Edina.

To see this film is to fall in love with its creator and subject, 81-year-old auteur Agnès Varda, "a little old lady, pleasantly plump and talkative" in her own modest description. Varda was present at the birth of the French New Wave and still makes films with more brio and imagination than most professionals a third her age.

"Beaches" is a chipper, colorful film essay about her life, her career and friendships with the bad boys of French filmmaking, including her late husband, "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" director Jacques Demy. Varda made fiery feminist films in the '70s, but was too independent-minded to be confined to the women's-film ghetto. She opens her heart to one and all, from the bakers who are her next-door neighbors in France to her unlikely Hollywood pal Zalman King, soft-core sovereign of the "Red Shoe Diaries." Her autobiography overflows with passages of Fellini-esque beauty as she films a trapeze troupe against the sea, as well as skits of surreal silliness. When was the last time you saw a world-renowned director converse with a cartoon cat or dress as a potato?

COLIN COVERT

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

★★ out of four stars

Rating: PG; mild language

This computer-animated 3D extravaganza is the ultimate food fight, capitalizing on the universal compulsion to play with your food. But like any good food fight, it offers short-lived entertainment.

Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) is a brilliant but misguided inventor who has the best intentions, but the worst ideas. When the town of Chewandswallow falls on tough times, he is committed to liberating everyone from their daily diet of sardines. A harebrained machine that converts water into any food goes haywire, destroys half the town and launches into the sky. It's deemed yet another Flint Lockwood failure until -- whadda ya know -- it starts raining cheeseburgers! The town is smitten and Flint is a hero. Gluttony and thoughtlessness prevail as Flint, preoccupied by his newfound fame and beautiful weathergirl Sam, unwittingly unleashes a worldwide food tempest.

Based on the much loved (and gentler) book by Judi and Ron Barrett, "Cloudy" takes the premise and goes as out of control as Flint's food machine. A self-proclaimed "film made by a lot of people," it relies too heavily on CGI and quick laughs to give much more than momentary enjoyment.

KATHIE SMITH

THEATER OF WAR

★★★ out of four stars

Rating: Not rated.

Where: Oak Street Cinema.

In 2006, New York's Delacorte Theater staged a fantastic theatrical event: Bertolt Brecht's masterpiece "Mother Courage," starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Streep played the cunning, mercenary survivialist trudging through the Thirty Years War, switching alliances and carving out deals, but ultimately unable to outwit inevitable fate. This behind-the-scenes account of the production preserves the actors' artful, intense performances and offers their insights into the social responsibility of artists in turbulent times. A strong spirit of protest against the Iraq war motivated the production. As producer Oskar Eustis observes, "It's a play that examines the question of what are the things that attract us to that which destroys us, because all of us are acceding to what is being done in our name by our country."

COLIN COVERT

BURMA VJ

★★★ out of four stars

Rating: Not rated; subtitled.

Where: Oak Street Cinema.

Journalism might be endangered in the United States, but it can get one killed in Burma, where for decades the junta has cracked down violently on protesters and those who dare to cover them. This unique and startling documentary collects understandably shaky footage from the Democratic Voice of Burma, whose members risked their lives to capture harrowing images of the 2007 uprising of democracy-seeking Buddhist monks and their followers in Rangoon. "Burma VJ" would be even more intense without its early announcement that some scenes have been restaged, putting the viewer in a regrettably uncertain relationship to what follows.

ROB NELSON

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